Progression and Differentiation

The five Programmes of Study track the progress of learners from the beginner stage to the advanced and provide a tool for long-term planning. Each programme exemplifies a layer of attainment that builds on and incorporates prior learning. Thus progression is evident in the:

  • Depth of skills, knowledge and understanding that learners are able to demonstrate. This is shown in the demand of the activities, for example by singing/playing more challenging music, or through deeper understanding of different musical cultures.
  • Breadth of the musical activities and repertoire undertaken. This is shown in the range of learning objectives and activities, for example the variety of cultural styles and different purposes of making music.
  • Quality of the outcome. This is shown in the confidence and ownership demonstrated by the learners, for example performing with fluency, expression and sensitivity.

The five Programmes of Study describe progression in this multidimensional way. They also reflect other ways in which young people often develop as musicians. In Programme of Study 1, for example, the expected outcomes feature the learners’ control of musical materials. In Programme of Study 2, the emphasis is placed on the increasing awareness of expressive possibilities. By Programme of Study 3, learners are more likely to be aware of structural relationships in music and to be able to convey this in their music-making. At the level of Programme of Study 4, learners should be able to demonstrate a more perceptive understanding of musical idioms, for instance in their interpretations. Finally, in Programme of Study 5, expectations focus on learners’ ability to invest their music-making with a greater sense of critical and personal ownership.

These outcomes are only broad indicators of attainment and it may be that some learners will be working across several programmes simultaneously. For example, a late starter may be working in Programme of Study 1, but also playing with expressive sensitivity (a feature of Programme of Study 2) and showing considerable personal ownership (Programme of Study 5). These differentiated responses should be expected and planned for so that a learner’s potential is not underestimated.

Similarly, the programmes are neither time nor age-related. Learners inevitably progress at different speeds, depending on such factors as age, previous experience and capacity to practice between lessons. Indeed, learners may be ready to move to a higher programme in some areas but not in others. The framework, however, is sufficiently flexible to allow teachers to take account of these differentiated outcomes when planning their lessons. Where learning objectives have a related objective in earlier and/or later Programmes of Study, these can easily be viewed by clicking the previous/next buttons underneath the activities. This enables teachers to better understand progression within each area and select objectives and activities appropriate to the needs of each learner.

Tips for differentiation

Group teaching, whether small-group, large-group or whole-class, requires careful differentiation of activities in order to ensure that learners of differing abilities are able to succeed. Ways in which this can be achieved include:


  • establishing individuals’ learning needs (by liaising with teachers, SENCOs etc. when working in schools)
  • providing adapted instruments where necessary
  • building on the music pupils already know and enjoy through their family and social experience
  • using differentiated repertoire, e.g. duets with parts of differing levels of difficulty, or by encouraging participants to create their own parts
  • creating simple ostinati or other accompaniments
  • using different types of notation, or by working by ear
  • varying the tempo
  • providing alternative methods of participation, e.g. clapping rhythms to build confidence
  • changing the level of difficulty in terms of technical demand, e.g. transposing a melody up or down an octave, asking learners to play with one hand or both hands at the keyboard
  • structuring activities to allow for differentiation by outcome, e.g. developing improvisation and composing activities from early stages
  • encouraging students to lead the group


The Music Commission: Retuning Our Ambition for Music Learning
A detailed report which sets out key themes and recommendations regarding how governments, music education organisations and schools should support progress and progression.